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The bike that got me through the pandemic (it's $2000 less than a Peloton)

When it comes to stationary bikes, everyone has their needs. This one fulfilled mine.
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer

Still going.

Chris Matyszcyk/ZDNET

Remember the panic?

Suddenly we were all going to be shut down. Almost everything would close. We'd have to adjust. Oh, how we'd have to adjust.

I confess there was only one thing that worried me about the pandemic -- other than the perfectly obvious concerns about catching a potentially deadly virus.

Look, I don't want to get too personal here, but I need to sweat. Yes, every day.

I need to burn off physical and mental elements that fester within and upon me. So I used to slip out to a local gym, ride a bike, do some weights and come home looking as if I'd been assaulted by a gang of shower merchants.

Pandemic panic

With the pandemic, gyms were shut down. So, like many others, I rushed to get a stationary bike. Which wasn't easy, because many others were doing the very same.

The trick was choosing a bike that was still available. Which wasn't going to be a Peloton, was it? Those were the glory days of Peloton's screaming popularity.

So I scoured Amazon and came upon a Schwinn 170. Naturally, I had no clue what one of those was, but at least I'd heard of Schwinn.

And this Schwinn 170 was a (relatively) very reasonable $520. (It's currently on sale for $449.) 

I reasoned that I wouldn't need it for too long. The pandemic would be over in a few months and I could bathe in old habits again. And really, how bad could this bike be?

I understand that everyone has different exercise needs. Many people adore being cajoled via a screen -- or even shouted at -- by someone far fitter than themselves, in order to dream about looking like the person shouting at them.

I've never seen the pleasure in that. I want to get on the bike, make it hard for myself by pedaling up and down imaginary hills, and simultaneously read a book in order to forget that I'm pedaling up and down imaginary hills.

For me, it works.

I disappear into crime novels and an hour can go by without an enormous sense of suffering. Unless a likeable character suddenly gets murdered.

Yes, the sweat does drip on my novel occasionally, but who's perfect? Not I.

Putting it all together

The Schwinn 170 wasn't that hard to put together. It's like an IKEA bike. You get the tools, you get the instructions and you get someone else to help you.

My wife and I managed to piece all the parts together so that it looked like the photo. And on I sat.

No, it's not the most comfortable bike in the world -- even with a pleasingly soft seat cover. But it's been one of those machines that's done its job. Mostly.

We've been through several phases, the Schwinn and I. First, the left pedal began to make a clicking noise. I've no idea why. But this clicking noise was mercurial. Sometimes it went on for the whole ride, sometimes it happened for a few minutes and sometimes it teased me by not happening at all.

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Then there was the right pedal. It began to make a clacking noise, like a tire-less wheel riding down a staircase. It was annoying. Then it was very annoying. It lasted more than a year and I put up with it.

I know you wouldn't, but when I work out I'm a desperate man. And did I mention I disappear into novels, in the belief that their world is more warming than mine?

I should, therefore, mention that the Schwinn 170 has a little shelf that perfectly fits any novel I'm reading. Well, almost any novel.

Looking down at a Schwinn 170 exercise bike
Chris Matyszcyk/ZDNET

After the clacking, I keep going

But back to the clack.

One day, it just stopped. No, I don't know why. Or how. But now there's the occasional click, squeak and creak, but nothing that spares me from its sudden (relative) smoothness.

You'll want to know some more details, though.

The bike's makers claim it's bluetooth compatible, so you can track your progress on your beloved app. I've never tried making it app-en. I just ride it, and I've never even explored its 25 levels of resistance and 29 workout programs.

That's probably not enough for you, but somehow I've kept going up and down hills -- the program is called Pyramids -- for quite some time now.

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Yes, it's more than 30 months since I bought my Schwinn 170 and I still haven't re-started a gym membership.

It keeps going, it keeps me going and I keep going.

I realize this isn't an entirely fair comparison, but when you pay $2,500 for a Peloton -- and even more, perhaps, to get someone to shout at you -- maybe the Schwinn isn't that bad an investment.

Silence can be relieving -- even if one of your pedals occasionally clacks.

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